Vocational Training Teaches Entrepreneurship

If Congressional Bill H.R. 610 is about dismantling the public school system, vocational training is an answer to ensure all youth get an equal education. It may not be focused on reading, writing and ‘rithmatic exclusively, but this movement is teaching youths real world skills to build a future for themselves.

Across the U.S., a growing movement is educating kids in the principles of entrepreneurship – what it takes to create, start, and grow a business. The world of work has changed … everyone needs to have an entrepreneurial mentality regardless of whether they create and lead their own company or they work for someone else. Vocational training fills this need. According to Victor Hwang, VP of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, “The school system has long taught for industrial jobs: how to find a job, how to fill a job. But the jobs of the new economy are ones where you have to be entrepreneurial.”

This article by Tom Foster, Editor-at-large, Inc.com, “Inside the Schools That Want to Create the Next Mark Zuckerberg–Starting at Age 5“, gives me hope for future generations. Across the U.S. kids are learning how to make and sell their own products. From handmade dog treats to gluten free baked goods and even security software, kids are learning skills to stimulate innovative thinking and hopefully ensure the next Mark Zuckerberg.

vocational training teaches real world skillsSchools over the years dismantled their vocational training programs. When I went to high school, we had classes like Home Economics and Shop where we learned how to cook and sew or how to repair cars and build things. Those programs disappeared as schools tightened budgets to focus on reading, writing, science, and math. While important educational programs, these exclusively left-brain-focused classes didn’t work for students who predominantly learned by physically “doing” something. They needed to make something to learn the concepts of math or science. Classes in shop and home economics did that.

Vocational training programs are making a come back

Now we’re seeing a resurgence of these vocational training programs, not in schools, but funded by the private sector and non-profit organizations. The traditional education program in the US doesn’t fit everyone. Some students just don’t want to get a business degree. Some know they want to work with their hands. And there is nothing wrong with that. Asian cultures have educated their youth this way from birth. Young children are tested at an early age to determine which path they should take. Then their entire education is focused on that path.

On the other hand, we’ve tried to fit all students into the same box in the effort to provide equal educational opportunities to all. And it isn’t working. Our educational system has not evolved fast enough to meet the demands of the new types of work that technological innovation is creating. Witness the outcry of companies like Google, Intel, and Qualcomm who say they can’t hire qualified people educated in the US. They need to import talent from other countries.

Compared to in-classroom courses, “vocational education aims to prepare students for their futures by focusing on the industries that interest them,” according to the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. Institute blog. The article continues to say, “Vocational education is more like college in the sense that students are expected to be autonomous. This helps to prepare students for the future by encouraging them to manage their own time and take care of themselves. Those who graduate from vocational school may be more prepared to assimilate into the “real world” than those coming out of high school.”

Vocational training, like exposure to arts and science through field study trips, helps to bring classroom learning into the real world. Many of us, whether young or old, learn best by doing.

Vocational training programs teach self awareness, responsibility, time management, as well as specific skills like wood working or animal husbandry or cooking or car maintenance. Math, reading and writing are wrapped up in the learning process as students apply their physical as well as mental faculties to the learning.

They prepare students for the new world of work.

Thinking differently produces new possibilities

Looking for inspiration recently, I turned to one of my favorite books, The Art of Possibility. Opening it up I came to a story about thinking differently. It was written by a health system’s Vice President who attended a presentation one of the authors, Boston Philharmonic Symphony Conductor Benjamin Zander, made to his company.

Art of PossibilityThe audience was told to reflect on someone no longer in their lives while Zander played Chopin. The Vice President thought about his father’s inability to tell him he loved him all the time he was growing up. This caused him to distance himself from his father as an adult. But during reflection he remembered a special moment when his father showed him his love, even though he couldn’t say it. Suddenly, his world changed.

The final paragraph in the letter he wrote points to the importance of thinking differently:
We keep looking so hard in life for the ‘specific message’, and yet we are blinded to the fact that the message is all around us and within us all the time. We just have to stop demanding that it be on OUR terms or conditions, and instead open ourselves to the possibility that what we seek may be in front of us all the time.

Be open to new possibilities

This made me recall a time early in my banking career when I put in a bid to my boss and his boss to create a brand new department with me as department manager. I had seen the need for a department that provided “creative services” to the executives since I was being asked to do those things already. This involved writing out flip chart presentations (yes, this was before PCs and PowerPoint), editing speeches, creating posters for executive presentations, and planning and producing marketing and operations conferences.

A few days earlier I had called my mother for advice on how to structure my proposal and presentation. She was my business adviser and mentor early in my career having had lots of experience working her way up the corporate ladder. At the time, she and several other high level executive women had formed their own consulting firm to help women gain the management skills to excel in a corporate environment run predominantly by men. Much of what they were teaching these women had to do with thinking differently about themselves, their work, and their career goals.

So armed with her advice, I wrote up my presentation and made the pitch as she had suggested. I remember being disappointed after my presentation because I didn’t get exactly what I proposed. I said as much to my boss. His response was, “Jeri, why are you so disappointed? You won! It may not be exactly how you proposed it, but you got the department and the new responsibility. Congratulations!”

Thinking differently creates new possibilitiesSimilar to the epiphany the VP had in the book, I too, gained a new perspective. I realized I needed to change my thinking. I did get the new opportunity and the promotion even though it didn’t look exactly as I had proposed and I didn’t get the title I wanted. But I was given a budget to manage and permission to hire two people. It was my first job directly managing my own staff, instead of the shared management responsibility of the department secretary whom I supervised with several other colleagues. The department head had his own private secretary. And now I was the only other person in the department with my own staff. Boy did that irk some of my co-workers!

The message I finally internalized was to recognize the win, and start thinking differently.  New possibilities emerge as a result.

You might be surprised at what you discover!

Top Chef Yields Innovative Ideas

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Innovative ideas come from unrelated areas. Chefs stretch their creative thinking to invent unusual and flavorful dishes. Consumer Trend Canvas stimulates innovative solutions.

Top Chef yields innovative ideas

As I watched a recent TV episode of Top Chef, I thought about how two chefs in particular stretched themselves pairing unusual ingredients from Asian and European cooking to make innovative and flavorful seafood dishes of lobster, clams, and oysters. It made me wonder how we might apply similar concepts to generate innovative ideas with our work with clients.

During this particular competition, the four remaining chefs had to be innovative in their use of ingredients, spices, textures, and flavors when preparing a main dish for four executive chef judges. Of the four contestants, one was eliminated, and the other three went into the final round in Mexico.

Each time the chefs competed, they were given one or more ingredients that must be the featured item in the dishes they prepare. They usually had less than an hour to decide what ingredients and spices to add, how to cook the main protein, and what sauce if any to include. This time also included plating the entrée and then presenting it to the judges.

This particular episode made me think…what can we do to help our clients think more creatively and stretch themselves in their problem-solving? Do the same planning models and tools work for this purpose or can those be adapted to help our clients dig deeper into the issues that are the heart of their challenges? Is there a tool to help them develop innovative ideas to solve critical issues?

Using Trend Canvas to Generate Innovative Ideas

We had the opportunity to test this in a planning project with a large spiritual organization. On the first day of planning, we introduced the Consumer Trend Canvas from Trendwatching.com. Breaking the group into teams of four or five, we had each team use the Consumer Trend Canvas to analyze a critical issue and come up with some innovative solutions.

The beauty of the Consumer Trend Canvas is that it forces you to look outside the organization at what’s driving the changes that affect that particular issue. It also has you look at the basic consumer needs tied to that issue, and the emerging consumer expectations. After reviewing those three areas, you begin to think more creatively about how to address those changes as they apply to the issue you’re tackling. This creates interesting possibilities – innovative ideas – that might not have bubbled to the surface without using the Consumer Trend Canvas.

For this organization, one of the issues was member retention. They were no longer relevant, and consequently, they weren’t attracting younger members or retaining current, aging members. The average age of members was over 70! Without attracting new, younger members, the organization would eventually cease to exist.

We had each team chart their issue, three key challenges, and one to three innovative solutions on a flip chart. Then they shared their solutions with the entire group. This gave the group a list of innovative ideas to pursue further in order to resolve their top critical issues.

We had them prioritize the ideas down to one key idea for each issue. Then we included those ideas as action items under the strategies they came up with on the second day of the planning retreat. This resulted in a manageable list of action steps to pursue to move the organization forward towards its desired outcomes.

Doing this early in the planning session helped them to start thinking creatively as they continued through the rest of the weekend’s planning exercises. It forced them to look outside the organization at global trends that were impacting them now or could do so in the future.

The group successfully completed all the elements of a strategic plan during the two-day retreat. They have written the plan and are now in the process of executing it. In May, we’ll review their progress to see what they have accomplished in their first year of implementation.

What are you doing to be more innovative in your planning and problem resolution? Have you discovered new tools to help you think more creatively and uncover the deeper gold beneath the surface?

Millennials Will Change the World

Oh to be young again!

When I watch Ted Talk videos by Millennials who are smart, confident and know what direction they want to take with their lives, I wish I were 30 years younger to share in that future. WOW! I mean, really, WOW!

Stacey Ferreira - Millennials are ScrewedThese young people like Stacey Ferreira have it together. They aren’t stupid or lazy. They have different expectations based on the world they’re exposed to. These Millennials have a different outlook on work/life balance. They want to be productive. Millennials want to have an impact on changing what doesn’t work. They aren’t afraid to share their opinions and ideas with top executives. If you don’t like what they have to say, so be it. If you do, use it. These 2 billion Millennials are out to change the world.

That’s so different from when I was starting my career. Those were the days of learning corporate gamesmanship. Remember the book, “Games Mother Never Taught You”? It’s about all the terminology women need to know and the game-playing that goes on in traditional corporate workplaces run predominantly by men. That was about understanding the football and baseball strategies and terms and applying them to what was happening in the work place. If you wanted to get ahead, you learned to play those games. And I got so tired of it. What a waste of time!

Millennials have a totally different outlook. It’s not about who plays the game best, it’s about doing it together to improve the product or strategy or workplace or world. These are collaborators, working together in open offices, not turf warriors protecting their kingdoms. I would love to play in that world instead of the one I grew up in.

But the future is about the younger generation. We adults who have been there and done it differently, need to stand aside and support them, nurture their creative spirits, and help where we can.

What an amazing generation this is!

Fall Weather Causing Writer’s Block?

Have you ever run into “writer’s block”? Seriously, I usually don’t have trouble finding things to write about and share, but this month I’ve been stymied!

Perhaps it’s the change in weather. While September is ending on a warm note, fall is definitely in the air. The leaves are turning. The mornings and evenings are cooler, and there’s a crispness to the air.  I just want to sit out on the porch and read.

Then again, maybe it’s because I’ve been preparing for the late start of the social media marketing class I teach online through Yavapai College. The college changed learning platforms over summer, from Blackboard to Canvas, so I’ve had to re-build the class in the new platform. It was a bit time-intensive, but it’s fairly intuitive, and I think it will prove to be a better learning platform for the students.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently been immersed in speaking Spanish with some friends from Argentina. They’ve been visiting with very close friends who speak very little Spanish. Since Eric is natively fluent and I’m quite proficient, we’ve spent quite a bit of time conversing with them in Spanish. As a result, I find I’m talking to myself in Spanish instead of English! That’s a good thing, but it’s derailed my thought process a bit.

TIPs to overcome writer’s block

glass of water and skyA quick internet search for tips to overcome writer’s block turned up this link: 7 ways to overcome writer’s block, by Chuck Sambuchino, writersdigest.com.

One suggestion is to stop trying to write and do anything creative. Paint, draw, write poetry, design pictures in PhotoShop or Illustrator, etc. (I may have to try this, although it makes me feel unproductive, and I hate wasting time).

Another is to get up and move – do tai chi, exercise, go for a walk (been there done that already this morning). Another tip is to write early in the morning. Now that I agree with! I am my most creative in the morning, and it helps to read or watch stimulating, creative, motivational quotes or stories to get my mind flowing.

His #7 technique is the most interesting though – the glass of water technique. Before bed, fill a glass of water and speak an intention to the water. When you wake up in the morning, drink the water and then sit down at the computer and start writing. I may have to try that!

What’s your favorite way to end writer’s block?


Story-Telling Made Simple

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist

We know story-telling is a powerful way to spread your message. Making stories memorable and compelling is the key.

Have you ever sat at your computer looking at a blank Word document and asked yourself, “What now? Where do I start?” You have a message to share, but you want to do it in a creative way. You want it to be interesting and memorable and still get the message across.

A year ago, Copyblogger’s Sonia Simone wrote a great blog post on the 5 steps to writing a compelling marketing story. The five steps are:

  1.  You need a hero. This is your customer. Think of one of your customers or clients who has taken what they learned from you and succeeded beyond your expectations.
  2. You need a goal. What was the customer’s objective? What became possible once they achieved the goal?
  3. You need an obstacle. What was preventing your customer from succeeding? Was it something outside the business or internal to the business or the individual? This is what makes the story interesting and something others can identify with.
  4. You need a mentor. That’s you! You are the coach, helping your client see the possibilities and overcome the obstacles.
  5. You need a moral. This is the main takeaway from the story. It’s where you tell others how you can help them solve similar challenges, and tell them what action they should take next. Be direct and to the point.
  6. Bonus: you need the truth!

Now, thanks to Copyblogger’s Media designer Lauren Mancke and Demian Farnworth, we have a great infographic that summarizes Sonia Simone’s defining article on compelling story-telling. Below is the infographic providing tips for structuring and writing a marketing story. I’ve saved it as a PDF to use in the future. You may want to do the same.

Download as PDF

The Amazingly Simple Anatomy of a Meaningful Marketing Story [Infographic]Like this infographic? Get content marketing training from Copyblogger Media that will give you an unfair business advantage

Getting Through the Peaks and Valleys of life

Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Peaks and Valleys are normal and natural in life and work. Create a sensible vision using all five senses and then follow it to move out of the Valleys. When in a valley, ask yourself: “What is the truth about this reality?” To stay longer at the Peak, find ways to be of greater service to others and more loving to your family and friends.

As I was re-reading Dr. Spencer Johnson’s book, Peaks and Valleys: Making Good and Bad Times Work for You, I reflected on where we are in our work and life journey. We haven’t achieved as much as I had hoped we would have by now. For example, we aren’t living our dream of two-month long sailing trips twice a year on our own boat or through chartering.

Male Gambel's QuailThen I looked at what we have achieved: we have a less stressful life. We have wonderful friends whom we see and talk with often. We are living close to nature, albeit not the nature I had imagined. But we are surrounded by bunnies, lovely Gambel’s quail, roadrunners, dogs, cattle and horses. The high mountain desert does have its seasons. The air quality is clear and the night skies are amazing. The surrounding red rock formations are stunning. We can actually see the thousands of stars which we couldn’t see in San Diego.

Could things be better? Sure! But that’s the future we can still create for ourselves. Johnson’s book reminded me that life is full of Peaks and Valleys. It’s how we manage our journey through the Valleys that makes it possible to enjoy more time on the Peaks.

One of the gems I was reminded of is that we create our own reality. So if we only focus on the negatives while we’re in the Valleys, we stay there longer. I’m reminded of another book, “Before You Think Another Thought”, by Dr. Bruce I. Doyle, III. In it he says that our thoughts are energy. Every thought we have is sent out into the universe and becomes a reality for us. So if we only think negative thoughts about how difficult or unfair life is or how unhappy we are with our current job or life circumstances, then we continue to create that reality. If, on the other hand, we stop to think “what is the lesson to be learned here” or “how might this reality be different,” we are taking stock of our situation and facing the truth of that reality.

That opens up the mind for more creative thinking about how we might change our circumstances to create a better reality. We start “doing” what we need to do to create that better reality, and before we know it, we are on a Peak again. Until we take responsibility for our current situation, and face the truth of how we got there, we aren’t ready to think differently in order to DO the work that will create the change.

Tget Peaks and Valleys on Amazonhese are powerful concepts to keep in mind. Here are some additional tips I garnered from the Peaks and Valleys book:

  • Create and follow your Sensible Vision using all 5 senses. This creates the Peaks in your life (you need to be able to see, hear, feel, taste and smell this vision – feel it in your bones)
  • Manage your way through Valleys to stay longer on the Peaks
  • Make reality your friend. Face your truths and fears.
  • When you’re in a Valley, ask yourself, “What is the truth in this?”
  • When in a Valley, imagine what you might see when you’re on a Peak (what might be possible and different when you reach the Peak?)
  • You need to feel and live the Peaks and Valleys. These are normal parts of everyday life and work
  • Your Valleys are opportunities to grow and learn

And here’s the final nugget of truth:
“You get out of a Valley sooner when you manage to get outside yourself: at work, by being of greater service, and in life, by being more loving.”

I plan to re-read this book at least once a year from now on, especially when I find myself going through or stuck in a Valley. It’s a good reminder of what I need to do to get through that Valley to the Peak that lies ahead.

Google Hangouts Used in Creative Way

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Toyota has launched a creative way to use Google Hangouts to build their brand. Not that brand recognition is necessary for the #1 car manufacturer in the world. But I’ll bet this helps sell more Corollas.

Toyota has taken hangouts to a new level making car buying a fun and easy experience, done from the comfort of your own home. Through their ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, they approached Joystick Interactive to create a Collaborator App for use on tablets and mobile phones using Google Hangouts, that would enable people to customize a car. It was launched in November 2013.

Here’s the deal

Using the Toyota Collaborator App, you invite a group of friends to join you in a private Google Hangout and collaborate on customizing a Toyota Corolla. Choose color, wheel rims, interior, and even take it for a test drive.

Launch Collaborator App

Now, think about how you might use Google Hangouts with business colleagues? What kind of a collaborative hangout might you launch?

Perhaps you invite team members to join you on a Google Hangout to resolve a customer service issue. Instead of color and wheel choices, you have service options to choose and vote on. Google Hangouts allow up to 9 webcams live simultaneously, so you can see one another, transfer the screen controls back and forth, and record the session for those who couldn’t attend. Assign someone to take notes, document poll results, etc.

How might you use this to build a product, re-design packaging, solve a challenging issue? How can you make it a fun experience while getting the work done? That’s the secret to what Toyota has created with their collaborator app using Google+ Hangouts.

Of course, they didn’t build it themselves. But wouldn’t it be cool if Joystick Interactive and Google collaborated to make such a tool available for the rest of us to use in our businesses?

Keys to improve your strategic thinking

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International  April 2014

Takeaways: Improve your strategic thinking to stay on top of your game. Surround yourself with people who think differently in order to broaden your perspective.

It’s easy to get lost in routine and forget about constantly improving your game. One of the ways to do this is to constantly improve your thinking. According to Shaun Rein, author of Three Keys to Improving Your Strategic Thinking, published on Forbes.com, the easy thing is to only read and listen to people who think like you. But by doing that, you surround yourself with a group of “yes” people and you don’t gain the necessary insights from contrary thinkers.

In his article, Rein lists three keys to improve your strategic thinking. These are:
1)    Constantly question your own opinions. Don’t always assume your opinion is right. Listen to others and be open to consider another viewpoint. Read the opinions of those who criticize your viewpoint to see if what they say has merit. You may be surprised and find a nugget of truth that might change your opinion.

2)    Don’t just read articles by these contrarians; surround yourself with people who think differently. Whether you are a leader in a large organization, the head honcho, or an entrepreneur, it’s important to gather trusted advisors and staff who offer differing opinions about world views, marketplace opportunities, and business prospects. Choose people from seemingly disparate fields for periodic discussions around a specific theme or focus, such as the state of China’s economy.

3)    Finally, he says, it’s important to recharge your brain and your body regularly. We know the importance of taking time every day to exercise, as well as take extended vacations away from the office, computers, and your smart phone. Rein suggests taking a trip somewhere where the people are different – a different culture and language. Even doing simple things like volunteering weekly at a soup kitchen will force you to re-think your life’s priorities and recharge your brain.

Regardless of our level in an organization, as leaders it’s important that we challenge our own thinking and status quo. Otherwise, we end up in a rut and we limit our own potential.

Using consumer trends to stimulate innovation

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International   April 2014

Takeaways: innovation comes from many sources. Analyzing consumer trends and even trends in other industries can stimulate new ideas and hone creative thinking skills.

Innovative thinking comes from many sources – following trends and using some creative questioning to analyze them is one way to hone creative thinking skills and create new innovations.

Trendwatching.com has developed an interesting Trend Canvas to help you focus your thinking around a specific consumer trend and develop a potential innovation for your business. They even provide an example of how to take a trend, such as Pretail, and work your way around the Trend Canvas to develop some innovative ideas.

In a two-step process, you first Analyze a specific trend and then you Apply the potential by answering a few questions:

1. Which deep basic consumer needs & desires does this trend address?
2. Why is this trend emerging now? What’s changing in the world around you?
3. What new consumer needs, wants and expectations are created by the changes identified above?
4. How are other businesses applying this trend?

1. How and where might you apply this trend to your business?
2. Which (new) customer groups could you apply this trend to? What would you have to change?

This process results in New Innovations that you can further develop, assign some metrics and costs to, and begin to implement. Try it in your business to see what new ideas you discover.  Then let us know how this works for you!